January 18, 2013

Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Published: 2009, Dutton Juvenile
Series: If I Stay, #1
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Library book

I don't really care. I shouldn't have to care. I shouldn't have to work this hard. I realize now that dying is easy. Living is hard.

My experience reading If I Stay perfectly illustrates why I simply cannot start reading a book with no expectations or any idea of what the book is like. I'd read so many positive mentions of the book that I figured I should check it out to see what all the hype is about. Somehow I never even managed to read a blurb of the book before I started reading the book itself. And that proved to be my downfall.

Mia's life revolves around playing her beloved cello, her family, and her boyfriend, Adam. She believes that her biggest challenge will be in deciding whether or not to attend Juilliard
an incredibly long distance from her Oregon hometown assuming she is accepted. But her life changes within the blink of an eye when, on their way to visit her grandparents one snowy morning, her family's car veers off the road and crashes. Her parents are both pronounced dead at the scene while Mia herself is not in a much better condition. Although her body itself is catatonic, however, Mia seems to be separated from her body and witness everything that happens within the next twenty-four hours, from waiting to learn the conditions of her parents and little brother, to watching her own body be operated on, to seeing how family and friends react to the news of the crash. It is through the lens of an out-of-body experience that Mia ruminates on her life thus far, and whether her life is still worth living.

The basic premise of the book is quite fascinating. Who isn't curious about having an out-of-body experience, or who doesn't wonder how much coma victims can really understand? Mia's disconnect from her body also dovetails an almost emotional detachment from her current life events. In a way, it makes sense. After enduring such trauma, Mia is having a difficult time processing everything. The scenes where Mia is present and observing her body's treatment garner little emotion from Mia herself, and much more from the other observers, her friends and family. It is through her memories (and her choices in the order of how she reflects back on them) that readers are able to understand Mia and how, regardless of her decision to stay or move on, her life will be irrevocably altered.

Mia's focus on her various relationships is definitely the strongest point of the novel. She allows her relationships with family, her boyfriend, friends, and music to define her. This is not to say that she allows the expectations of others to shape her, however. A bit more mature than the average teenage girl, Mia chooses to devote her time and effort between these four areas equally. It is incredibly refreshing to read about a character who has a true passion (music, in this case), who actually gets along with her family, who has strong friendships, and who has a relationship based on trust and truth. As Mia reflects on whether or not she'd like to continue with her life, she focuses on these four aspects and how they're intertwined. If one of those parts (her family) is gone, then are the others enough for her to have a good life? This is not an easy choice for Mia to make, but it makes for an incredibly powerful and moving reflection.

This is an incredibly character-driven novel. Outside of Mia's flashbacks, not much action occurs. If I take a more distant approach, I can definitely agree that Forman excels in developing realistic, nuanced characters and strives to make her readers care about their fates (even while knowing that not all of them can have happy endings). It is here that my particular views as a reader reared its ugly head. I did care about Mia, really I did. But I almost put an emotional fence between myself and the characters. I didn't like the story that was being told and was in no mood to open up my emotions to these characters. From a more impartial perspective, I definitely give Forman credit for the creation of her characters.

Ultimately I did not find If I Stay to be a satisfying read. It's poignant and thought-provoking, but it was simply too depressing for me to handle. And the worst part is that it does have rays of hope, especially by the ending, but it was difficult for me to see any of them. It's a shame that I had such a tough time reading this, because I know that Gayle Forman's works are highly regarded overall. I'm a little hesitant to read others works by her, but I would like to be able to have a positive reading experience with her books. Perhaps Just One Day will be my next book from her, so that I can have a break from Mia and Adam's world.
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. Hi! I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award! It’s an award for bloggers who have less than 200 followers. If you want to accept it, you can find the rules here: http://www.allfantasyworlds.com/2013/01/liebster-blog-award.html

  2. Oh, I hate that this one didn't work for you, Amanda. I will say the sequel Where She Went and her recent release, Just One Day, were better books. If I Stay is a very HEAVY book, and yes, depressing. It's thought provoking and beautifully written (as all of Forman's books are) but the subject matter is not going to be a hit with everyone. The saving grace in If I Stay was, for me, the characters. I absolutely adored Kim and, to a lesser degree, Adam.

    Now, that being said, the sequel Where She Went, which takes place a year or so after Mia's accident and from Adam's POV, is VERY different. I fell for Adam in that book in a way I never did in If I Stay. I loved that book much more. So don't give up just yet.

    You probably know my love for Just One Day at this point (I have been pretty vocal!) and it exceeds BOTH If I Stay and Where She Wen,t in my opinion.

    I hope you don't give up on this author just yet! Try another of her books first, you may feel differently:)

    1. The characters and their relationships to Mia were definitely my favorite aspects.

      And I know so many people love Forman's books. And Just One Day does sound more appealing. I really do think this was just the wrong book to read at the wrong time. :/ So I do want to give Forman a try again - just after I've had some time away from her works.

  3. I can totally understand why you would not fall in love with this one the way so many readers have. It was a really difficult read for me too (although I think I enjoyed it more). I WANT to read Forman's other books, but I'm honestly afraid too. I just can't bring myself to pick up Where She Went after this one.

    1. Yeah, one disappointing, difficult read can easily be attributed to so many factors. Once you've read two or more books by the author that you haven't liked, that's a bit more problematic. Then I feel like it's become a "there's something wrong with me" problem. That's why I just want to take a long break from Forman's works before moving on to something else, I think. Hopefully I will someday, and I hope you'll be able to as well, Heidi!


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